Birtherist response highlights racial undertones of ‘debate’
During the 2008 campaign, questions about John McCain's birth in the Panama Canal Zone on a U.S. military base prompted some to ask whether McCain was eligible to be president, since the Constitution stipulates that anyone not born in the United States is not eligible to be president.
Amid a flurry of news reports, McCain's own campaign announced in February 2008 that it was conducting an investigation. When a bipartisan pair of lawyers announced the following month that McCain was indeed eligible, the issue virtually died--apart from a Senate resolution that pretty much laid the question to rest by attesting to the facts surrounding McCain's birth and citizenship.
But the winner of the 2008 election, Barack Obama, has faced a relentless campaign questioning his U.S. citizenship--and thereby the legitimacy of his presidency--that has disregarded the facts.
Questions regarding Obama's birth certificate have persisted for more than two years, as the president noted Wednesday at a press conference announcing the release of his long-form birth certificate. A vast array of evidence attests to Obama's citizenship--including a certificate of live birth, signed affidavits from people who viewed Obama's long-form birth certificate, confirmation by Hawaiian officials, and independent investigations by news outlets. Nevertheless, "this thing just keeps going" as Obama said this morning. Even after the White House released the long-form certificate of Obama's birth, birther leader Orly Taitz—who has filed unsuccessful lawsuits seeking to obtain access to Obama's birth certificate—sought to cast doubt on the document's authenticity, suggesting that in 1961, Hawaiian officials would have classified Obama as "Negro" rather than using designation "African," which suggests, in her view, a more contemporary concern for "political correctness."
So what's fueling the dogged questioning of Obama's origins? Many critics of the birther movement say its core tenets--and its stubborn resistance to evidence disproving those beliefs--can be traced to racial hostilities. The fundamental birtherist conviction, these critics say, is that an African-American can't have legitimately won the presidency--and that his elevation to power therefore has to be the result of an elaborate subterfuge.
"There is a real deep-seated and vicious racism at work here in terms of trying to de-legitimate the president," Peniel Joseph, a professor of history at Tufts University, told The Ticket.
"This is more than just a conspiracy," Peniel added. "I think this is fundamentally connected to white supremacism in this country."
Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. in early April called for the connection to be publicly drawn between birthers and racism: "So it is time to call this birther nonsense what it is--not just claptrap, but profoundly racist claptrap."
And columnist Michael Tomasky wrote for The Guardian Wednesday that the birther conspiracy "had to be the only explanation for how this black man got to the White House." He added: "And if you think race isn't what this is about at its core, ask yourself if there would even be a birther conspiracy if Barack Obama were white and named Bart Oberstar. If you think there would be, you are delusional."
In a similar vein, Rev. Jesse Jackson told Politico yesterday that Donald Trump's campaign to get Obama to release his birth certificate is deeply rooted in race.
"Any discussion of [Obama's] birthplace is a code word," Jackson said. "It calls upon ancient racial fears." Jackson later added that, in his view, Trump "is now tapping into code-word fears that go far beyond a rational discourse."